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International anger as air strikes kill dozens in Myanmar

Dozens of people in central Myanmar were killed in air strikes Tuesday, according to local media reports and a witness contacted by AFP, as the United Nations and Western powers condemned the attacks and demanded accountability.

The Southeast Asian country has been in chaos and its economy in tatters since the military seized power in February 2021 coup.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said he was “horrified” by the deadly air strikes whose victims he said included schoolchildren performing dances, with the global body calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The death toll from the early Tuesday morning strike on the remote Kanbalu township in Sagaing region is unclear.

At least 50 fatalities and dozens of injuries were reported by BBC Burmese, The Irrawaddy and Radio Free Asia.

The United Nations, while not confirming a toll, said several civilians were killed, with Turk accusing Myanmar’s military of once again disregarding “clear legal obligations… to protect civilians in the conduct of hostilities”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns the attack by the Myanmar Armed Forces today,” according to a statement by his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Guterres “reiterates his call for the military to end the campaign of violence against the Myanmar population throughout the country,” the spokesman added.

Washington said it was “deeply concerned” about the air strikes.

“These violent attacks further underscore the regime’s disregard for human life and its responsibility for the dire political and humanitarian crisis in Burma following the February 2021 coup,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement, using the country’s former name.

“The United States calls on the Burma regime to cease the horrific violence, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and to respect the genuine and inclusive democratic aspirations of the people of Burma.”

– ‘Great pain’ –

Sagaing region — near the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay — has put up some of the fiercest resistance to the military’s rule, with intense fighting raging there for months.

Graphic video clips circulating on social media — footage AFP has been unable to verify — show bodies scattered among ruined homes.

“We are going to rescue you if we hear you screaming,” one person could be heard saying in the video. “Please scream!”

A rescuer connected to an anti-coup People’s Defence Force group told AFP that women and children were among the dead.

After recovering bodies and transporting victims for medical treatment, he estimated the death toll could be up to 100.

Germany’s Foreign Office in a tweet said they “strongly condemn the #Myanmar army’s airstrike killing dozens of civilians, incl. many children,” adding: “we expect the regime to end the violence against its people immediately.”

Before military aircraft strafed Pazi Gyi village, scores of locals had gathered to mark the opening of a local defence force office.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government, a shadow body dominated by former lawmakers from ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, condemned the strike as a “heinous act”.

“We… share the great pain felt by the families affected by this tragedy,” it said in a statement.

The military, which accuses anti-coup fighters of being terrorists, has faced international condemnation for razing villages, mass killings and air strikes on civilians.

More than 30 people sheltering in a monastery were killed in Shan state in March.

Last year, a military air strike on a concert put on by the Kachin Independence Army in northern Kachin state killed around 50 people and wounded more than 70, the rebels said.

At a military parade last month, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing vowed to continue cracking down on opponents.

The military last month announced a six-month extension of a state of emergency and postponed elections it had promised to hold by August because it did not control enough of the country for a vote.

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